The Secret to Legal Foretelling: Generic and Inter-Generic Aspects of Vagueness in Contracts, Patents and Regulations

  • Jan Engberg Aarhus University
  • Ismael Arinas Pellón Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
Keywords: genre analysis, corpus linguistics, generic integrity, vagueness, legal discourse, intergeneric conventions, disciplinary genres


In this genre analysis research paper, we compare U.S. patents, contracts, and regulations on technical matters with a focus upon the relation between vagueness and communicative purposes and subpurposes of these three genres. Our main interest is the investigation of intergeneric conventions across the three genres, based on the software analysis of three corpora (one for each genre, 1 million words per corpus). The result of the investigation is that intergeneric conventions are found at the level of types of expressed linguistic vagueness, but that intergeneric conventions at the level of actual formulations are rare. The conclusion is that at this latter level the influence from the situation type underlying the individual genre is more important than the overarching legal character of the genres, when we talk about introducing explicit vagueness in the text.

Author Biography

Ismael Arinas Pellón, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
lectures English and Spanish for specific purposes to engineering students at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Spain. He also teaches on-line business English master’s courses at CEPADE (UPM’s business school) and Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED). He has been invited three times by the Knowledge Communication research group at the Aarhus School of Business, Denmark, where he has taught corpus linguistics strategies within the specialized translation master’s degree. He is currently working in the characterization of U.S. patents as a genre and the development of ontologies that use the rhetorical structure of this genre. His interests also include the development of LSP teaching materials for on-line and blended learning contexts. One of his latest publications is a chapter describing the move structure of U.S. patents in "Legal Discourse across Languages and Cultures" (2010) edited by Maurizio Gotti and Christopher Williams for Peter Lang.
How to Cite
Engberg, J., & Arinas Pellón, I. (2011). The Secret to Legal Foretelling: Generic and Inter-Generic Aspects of Vagueness in Contracts, Patents and Regulations. International Journal of English Studies, 11(1), 55-73.